There was a push on Kemba Walker as he tried to curl around Cody Zeller’s on the screen-and-roll action. There was the complete sellout by Marcin Gortat to contain the diminutive but speedy point guard for the Charlotte Hornets, making it difficult for him to lob the pass over the top at the rim.
There also was the switching involved by having Kelly Oubre, who started in place of Markieff Morris, to assist in preventing one of the NBA’s most lethal teams on the pick-and-roll from getting those easy buckets.
The result wasn’t just a 109-106 victory, but it was an about-face compared with how the Wizards played in a 112-101 loss to the Miami Heat on Monday. In that game, they were shredded on the pick-and-roll by Goran Dragic and James Johnson. They didn’t allow the Hornets to be physical with them first. Instead, the Wizards (10-14) took the initiative to set the tone.
“We had to start getting physical, and not let them just run their offense so freely,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the third quarter, when they tied it at 56 but quickly fell down by double-digits as Charlotte went on a 10-0 run. “I thought we did a better job of making them miss shots and not hoping that they miss. … We didn’t know Markieff was going to be out with a sore foot and Kelly came in and stepped up and did a great job defensively.”
Charlotte (14-12) is known for how they screen – sometimes illegally – to free Walker to get to the basket. Zeller and Frank Kaminsky, in particular are good at catching the ball and on handoffs spreading their legs to force the defender to take a wider angle. That allows Walker to turn the corner more effectively and the screener to dive to the basket for the feed or the putback on the weakside.
The Wizards took that away. In fact, they had seven more offensive rebounds (12), dominated in second-chance points (21-6) and points in the paint (56-28). They also more than doubled Charlotte’s output in steals (15-7).
Marvin Williams, a stretch power forward starter for Charlotte, was rendered ineffective vs. Oubre. Williams was just 2-for-6 for four points. Oubre was 7-for-12 for 15 points, six rebounds and two steals.
“One through four when they ran pick-and-roll with Marvin Williams, that’s one of their bread-and-butter plays getting Kemba to turn the corner,” said John Wall, who led all scorers with 25 points and 10 assists. “We just switched it one through four and then with these guys running pick-and-roll our bigs did a great job of being up into the screens so those guys couldn’t split or come downhill. The weakside was intact. We did a great job of forcing them into some tough shots and we were stealing the ball.”
The role that Gortat, who had 16 points, 12 rebounds and two steals, played in the success of the coverage can’t be overstated. Without the guards and the frontline being in sync and making multiple efforts, none of this works.
Coach Scott Brooks had to go away from Gortat in Miami which went small with Johnson -- a small forward -- playing as a center and initiating the screen-roll with Dragic who is the point guard. He used Morris as the five and opted to sit Gortat. Wall believes another adjustment there would’ve done the trick like it did Wednesday.
“I felt like we could’ve went smaller and played with all of our guards and basically have Otto or Kelly on (Johnson) and then we can be able to switch one through five and just battle it out on the boards," Wall said. "Having a big out there was kind of tough because James Johnson was handling the ball, running the pick-and-roll with the point guard and we were getting confused a little bit and it gave those guys some open shots.”
So it's not just the communication between players that produced a better defensive effort and win vs. Charlotte. It's communication from players to the coaching staff on what they think works best for them, too.